By Patrick Gossage
They come in various forms and in various guises: requests for proposals, expressions of interest, requests for capabilities presentations, or in the case of some offshore corporations: “We’re coming to town on such and such a date and someone recommended your firm and we want to meet you.”
PR agencies are particularly vulnerable to putting a lot of effort out, only to find out that in fact the fix was in for another firm, that the company actually wanted to keep the incumbent, or worse they didn’t really need outside PR at all and were just on an idea shopping expedition.
Take this example from a well-known PR agency, which shall remain anonymous!
“About three years ago one of the world’s most opulent luxury airlines decided to bid out its business in Canada. They were not flying here at the time – with no plans for the future. There was no creative brief.
Nevertheless, we, like so many other Canadian agencies were up to the challenge of competing for the business and spent considerable time developing a comprehensive presentation to the airline’s spec — including a list of key media influencers and how to approach them.
In the end, no agency was hired, but the airline was fully equipped with all the inside knowledge of who and how to pitch their story; and not surprisingly took the work in-house and to its US agency”.
Worse still, many of us have gruesome examples of ideas we have presented in these beauty contests being outright stolen by the company, or the winning bidder. There is often little justice in the free-for-all of RFP’s.
With some exceptions. And they are very instructive and should be taken to heart by Canadian corporations.
The Ontario Provincial Government’s Advertising Review Board which doles out work to qualified PR firms for all outsourced government communications business over $25,000, has over the years, become an absolute model of fairness to our industry.
Not only does it discourage those participating in a competition from actually proposing strategic solutions or ideas relevant to the assignment (this solves the problem of stealing ideas), but it has a rigorous marking system to evaluate the agency’s capabilities related to the assignment. It is fair to a fault.
In addition their helpful staff is happy to tell you why you failed to win the assignment, where you scored lower than others. This is unprecedented in the world of RFP’s.
Even to be in the “pool” so that your agency is considered for Ontario Government assignments requires presenting and being marked on such relevant categories as Strategic Thinking/Problem solving.
Here you have to: Demonstrate how you solved a public relations problem with a strategic approach that made a measurable contribution to a client’s business.
If only private sector clients would make it a routine to rate us with such rigor!
Patrick Gossage, a veteran commentator, political strategist and PR practitioner is founder and Chairman of Media Profile and a member of the Canadian Council of Public Relations Firms.